Essay, Guest Post, Wine IT
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Data & Wine

We are delighted to welcome WineQuant associate Iqbal Hossain to the blog. Iqbal has eight years of experience in wine-data and IT, so read carefully!

What is the difference between a Data and an IT professional in the Wine Trade? Eight years ago the answer to this question would have been none. For a long time they were expected to carry out the same roles and responsibilities in this industry. If someone was hired in a data role, they were by default assumed to be good with setting up printers, installing software and dealing with the blue screen of death, along with all of the other responsibilities that IT support has in an organisation.

However, things have started to change. These days investment in wine requires a lot more data-driven intelligence and decision making. This is how some of the traders globally have started to think, but there are a lot more who still prefer the traditional way of trading and are as yet uninfluenced by technology.

For some, resisting change is a natural instinct. For the majority of the wine trade the transition from the traditional way of trading (by picking up the phone) to a whole new era of information systems has been a slow burner, perhaps because the market was doing so well. Investment in IT comes with a heavy price tag, and most of the time justifying that cost is very difficult. Even if you have the budget and business approval, there is always that pain of finding the right contractors who will be able to deliver the requirements on time and within budget. Over the years I have come across a number of software vendors who are really skilful in understanding even the most complicated of business requirements, but when it comes down to developing software for the wine trade a lack of knowledge about wine as a product ensures that the software is not as expected. Rectifying this adds more to the cost which inevitably leads to the credibility of the investment, as well as the final delivered product, being questioned.

I had the pleasure of working for Liv-ex, The Fine Wine Exchange, for almost eight years. It was an interesting period of my life where I learnt a lot, and it has contributed to where I am in my life career-wise. I still remember my first day of training and the shock of seeing a case of 12 bottles of wine listed at £220,000 – `Surely, this is wrong!` was the first thing that came out of my mouth. My ignorance and lack of experience in the fine wine trade became apparent on my very first day.

My first role as a Data Analyst mostly involved developing systems to automate internal processes wherever possible. That was a relatively simple job compared to what I was doing as a Data Operations Manager two years later. This role involved the collection of list prices from fine wine merchants across the globe. Initially, less than 10% of the data we were processing was in a sort of ready-to-use format, while the rest required manual processing which was a very inefficient and time consuming task. Within the 90% of not so easy to process data, I even remember seeing scanned copies of list prices. Nevertheless, the information we needed was within our reach. It just wasn’t in the format that I would have liked. Inconsistent naming standards throughout the trade is a well-known problem, especially when the people dealing with the information (i.e. logistics and data guys like myself) have almost no background or knowledge of wines. `RSV` on a wine list refers to the label `Romanée-Saint-Vivant` and not `Respiratory Synctial Virus’ – that’s what google told me on my first day – one has to be a master of wine acronyms to identify the wines. Anyone in the trade will have some interesting stories to tell about wrong wines being shipped from one place to another.

At Liv-ex, we were aware of this big problem and were working towards finding a solution that would make everyone’s life easier in the wine trade. Liv-ex launched L-WIN (Liv-ex Wine Identification Number) to address this issue. I am quite proud that I was actively involved with the technical side of this product which led to its launch. One of my ex-colleagues who is now a Master of Wine played a key role in providing the wine knowledge required for this project. At around the same time as this product was launched, things in the wine world had started to change. Awareness of how technology has moved on, and the contribution data can make to help support day to day business decisions, led many businesses in the trade to invest heavily in IT. The trade has started to understand how technology can help to make business processes more efficient and error free.

Systems communicating with each other and humans only intervening when their precious expertise is needed would provide the ideal platform for the trade to start exploring one of the key assets in its own business – Data !!

After eight years in the wine trade I haven’t quite become a wine expert, but it has certainly given me the knowledge to distinguish a good wine from a bad one.

Iqbal Hossain

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